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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 8

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Verses 1-13



1.—See the question discussed in this chapter homiletically treated under 1 Corinthians 6:12.


2.—Note how Paul here (as in Romans 14:15.) bases nothing of his reply to the Corinthian questions upon the decree of Acts 15:0, though dealing so directly in this Epistle with two of its points—fornication and things offered to idols. He is dealing—as Stanley points out—not with the Cephas, the Jewish party in the Church, but with the (self-styled) party of Paul and Apollos; i.e. not with the scrupulous, conservative section, but with the too progressive, too much emancipated section; and these would not be likely to pay very much heed to the decree of a Church council in Jerusalem. Moreover, the Epistle is to become part of the permanent revelation of God to universal mankind. Its very method of dealing with questions and problems of practical ethics is not a small part of its revelation. This question, therefore, is here discussed and determined, not on the basis of submission to an external ordinance, however authoritative, but by reference and appeal to abidingly, universally, valid principles of right reason and right heart. Authority will always have its function and place and use; but the best legislation and its sanctions will be such as are also rooted in the intelligent, moral conviction of a spiritual mind and heart.


3.—Good note in Stanley as to the “eating meat offered to idols.” “The act of sacrifice amongst all ancient nations was an act, not merely of religious worship, but of social life. In most cases, only a part of the victim was consumed as an offering to the god” [as with the Hebrew “peace offerings,” Leviticus 7:15-18; Leviticus 7:20; Leviticus 17:2-6. Cf. 1 Samuel 14:32 sqq., especially 34]; “the rest fell to the portion of the priests, or was given as a banquet to the poor, or was sold again in the markets for common food, either by the priests, or by such sacrificers as could not afford or did not wish to undergo the expense of the whole victim. Hence most public entertainments, and many private meals, were more or less remotely the accompaniments of sacrifice; most animals killed for butcher’s meat had fallen by the hand of the sacrificer.” [Hence, he points out, the close connection, occasioning some ambiguity in the use of the word for “kill” (e.g. Acts 10:13), between killing for sacrifice and killing for ordinary purposes.] “ ‘Sacrifices’ are enumerated by Aristotle and by Thucydides amongst the chief means of social enjoyment.… At Corinth the conquerors in the Isthmian games used to give a banquet to the people, immediately after the sacrifices, in the temple itself of Poseidon. That these banquets often took place in temples appears from the stories which relate how Claudius and Vitellius, in their ungovernable greediness, rushed in from the streets to partake of the feasts round the altar.” [So in 1 Samuel 9:23 the cook brings up a shoulder which has remained over from the sacrifice and banquet of 1 Corinthians 8:11-13. Cf. also 1 Samuel 2:13-17.] “Closely as the whole social life of the ancient world was interwoven with its religious worship” [see how revolutionary for that reason Christianity was socially in, e.g., England: Green, Conquest of England, i. 8, 9], “the decision of this question affected the whole relations of the Christian society with its heathen neighbours; and, in fact, involved all the similar, though more complicated, questions discussed in the first four centuries of the Christian Church, respecting the lawfulness of attending on the spectacles, or receiving the honours, of the Roman Empire.” (Stanley, in loco.) E.g. N.B.

4.—“The council of Ancyra condemned them to a two years’ suspension from the Sacrament who sat down with their heathen friends upon their solemn Festivals in their Idol Temples, although they brought their own Provisions along with them, and touched not one bit of what had been offered to the Idol” (Cave, Prim. Chr., Part I., chap 5.).

1 Corinthians 8:1.—New topic, in reply to an inquiry from Corinth, resumed in chap. 10, after a digression, the resumption growing out of 1 Corinthians 9:19-21, and out of the discussion of the, in some respects, analogous Love-feasts and Lord’s Supper. We know … knowledge.—Spoken ironically; q.d. “ ‘We all have knowledge.’ Oh yes! I quite understand that. I said so in the first sentences of my letter (1 Corinthians 1:5). No doubt you are really a very understanding people” (Deuteronomy 4:6). Then with sudden change of tone, almost bitterly: “Well, well; you with your ‘knowledge’! Take care! It may be a danger, instead of a glory or a help.” N.B.

5.—The margin; also same word in 1 Corinthians 8:10 (margin).

1 Corinthians 8:2. Thinketh.—Like “I think so,” in Anglican Ordination Service; i.e. not with any doubt, but with all—as he believes, reasonable—certainty. So 1 Corinthians 10:12; Philippians 3:4; (Galatians 2:9). Ought.—In the fitness of things in the Divine life of the soul. But Beet says “must needs know,” for all salvation and spiritual life come through the intelligence (John 17:3). N.B.

6.—“Know … knowledge” have different roots in Greek.

1 Corinthians 8:3.—N.B.

7. Evans (in Speaker) makes last clause of 1 Corinthians 8:3 mean, “He (viz. God) is known of him” (viz. the “know something” of 1 Corinthians 8:2). Observe rather how (as in Galatians 4:9) Paul shrinks from saying outright, “He knows God” (Matthew 11:27). Observe also how Paul speaks almost as if in the dialect of John.

1 Corinthians 8:4. Nothing in the world.—Not to be joined in the colloquial sense, “nothing in the world.” But, “In the world there is no reality as of a divinity, behind, and corresponding to, the idol.” Observe the slightly variant translation in. Cf. 1 Corinthians 10:19.

1 Corinthians 8:5.—The (so-called) Olympian gods, and the crowd of inferior earth-dwelling divinities. No stronger sense to be attached to “there are” than to “there be that are called,” as if allowing any reality to the gods; emphasis is upon “many,” not upon “are”; q.d. “As, in fact, in current belief and speech, there are indeed many such so-called ‘gods.’ ”

1 Corinthians 8:6.—As usual, the “Father” is called “God,” yet not so as to exclude the Son from Godhead, any more than to call the Son “Lord” excludes the Father from Lordship. N.B.

8.—The term [the unity of God] is used only by analogy. Though there is one “Divine nature, the unity of God is not a unity of kind, because there are not individuals of the same species, and therefore, as for other reasons, the word is inapplicable to the Divinity. Of all other objects of thought we can imagine fellows or reproductions. But in God there is absolute soleness—SOLEITAS; though what lies hidden in the mystery of this essential ONENESS we know but partially. It is wrong to dogmatise upon the nature of a unity to which we have no parallel, and which we cannot define by comparison or illustration” (Pope, Compend. Theol., i. 258). This unity not to be so emphasised as to reduce the Unity to three manifestations of the One God, successive but in different modes—Sabellianism. Paul is still so far a Jew that, speaking in the presence of heathen idolatries and of Jewish sensitiveness, his language is coloured by the Monotheism in which he had been trained from early boyhood. Yet “Lord” is the New Testament appropriation of the LXX. equivalent for Jehovah, and he, above all others, makes it the customary designation of Jesus of Nazareth, his risen Master. [See, as to the practical usefulness of the Unity of God, Romans 3:20 (therefore one way of justification before Him, for Jew and Gentile); 1 Timothy 2:5-6 (therefore prayer should be offered for all men); Galatians 3:20 (most obscure introduction of the thought; perhaps the meaning is—therefore a Promise from Him Who is one and alone in giving it, is a transaction of a different nature to a Covenant, which implies two or many parties); Acts 17:26; Ephesians 4:6; Mark 12:29; Mark 12:33 (one object of worship, therefore one undivided heart-allegiance).] N.B.

9.—Observe the carefully distinguished prepositions, indicating origin, end, midway condition, respectively. The rivers of being came from and return unto God, the Sea, their Source and Good (cf. Ecclesiastes 1:7). Their midway course is conditioned at every point by Christ; all is through Him. [N.B.

9.—Look at John 1:3; Hebrews 1:2-3; in Colossians 1:16 notice how Christ is, like the Father here, made the goal and end; in Romans 11:36 the “through” here connected with Christ, is associated with God. This interchangeableness of God and Christ in such relations, speaks significant things as to Paul’s inspired estimate of the Jesus whom Peter and many still living had known in the flesh and “after the flesh.”] We.—Amongst the “all things.”

1 Corinthians 8:7. Important new reading (as in text) now in great favour. Choose between (the old, which meant) “still finding a moral difficulty for conscience in the idol,” and (the new, which means) “still under the influence of inveterately habitual association of ideas.” Both, no doubt, true difficulties to all converts. Robertson (Lectures) aptly parallels a modern instance: “Science has banished an express faith in the existence [of apparitions], yet … much credulity on the subject remains. The statute book is purged from sentences on witchcraft, yet a lingering feeling remains that it may still exist in power.” So, he continues, the heathen deities “were dethroned as gods, but they still existed, to the imagination, as beings of a lower order,—as demons who were malicious to men and enemies to God.” [But does this last satisfy 1 Corinthians 10:20?]

1 Corinthians 8:8. Meat.—Wider, of course, than merely “flesh-meat”; distinction drawn in 1 Corinthians 8:13. Equivalent to “what is eaten.” Commend.—For the figure see, e.g., Romans 5:8, or 2 Corinthians 4:2. Notice the reversed order of clauses, as in the new, better reading. The diffident, morbidly scrupulous, are first reassured; then the too confident, inconsiderately “broad,” “liberal” people are cautioned. Notice the marginal literal rendering in the Romans 14:17 is parallel.

1 Corinthians 8:9. Liberty.—Really “power”; connected with “are lawful,” 1 Corinthians 6:12; not supposed by Paul to be any unauthorised “liberty,” thus taken by the Corinthian who eats. Right enough, in the light of clear, abstract knowledge.

1 Corinthians 8:10. Emboldened.—Literally “built up” a new turn given to the word of 1 Corinthians 8:1. “Ruinosa œdificatin,” Calvin.

1 Corinthians 8:11. Perisheth.—Note this present, not future, tense in the best reading. As always, “salvation” and “perdition” are continuous conditions, begun already and simply continued, though intensified, into eternity (so Acts 2:47; 2 Corinthians 2:15). Also note the theological deduction drawn from this; with a force the stronger, just because the point occurs incidentally, an understood and accepted truth, both to Paul and to the Christian, in dealing with whom he makes it a sure basis of appeal;—a man may be even now perishing for whom Christ as much and as really died as for those who are now being saved.

1 Corinthians 8:12.—How Paul had learned the lesson of Acts 9:4. (See the homiletic treatment of “The Body of Christ,” 1 Corinthians 12:27.)

1 Corinthians 8:13.—Different word for “stumble” here from that in 1 Corinthians 8:9. That really is “stumbling-block”; this is (always) rather a trap or snare, which catches, by entangling, the feet.


Whole chapter may be grouped around the two clauses of the concluding sentence of 1 Corinthians 8:1.

A. The teachings of knowledge (1 Corinthians 8:1-8).

B. The teachings of love (1 Corinthians 8:9-13).

I. The great central truth is the existence and unity of God
.—This has been the peculiar work of Israel, to preserve and exhibit the truth about Him. Others might speculate about an Eternal Matter, a self-originated, self-sustained, Creation, eternal a parte ante; Israel knew only an Eternal Creator, “of Whom … to Whom,” etc. Others might confuse Him with His work; Israel knew—and the Church knows—of a personal Creator distinct from His Creation. Others might “solve” the problem of the presence of evil, physical and moral, by a Dualism which conceived of a co-ordinate, independent author and worker of the evil, side by side with the Author and Worker of good; Israel, and the Church, testify to a personal worker and author of evil, indeed, but one who is the creature of God, working in strictest, though enforced, subjection to the limitations of the will of the one only God, and mysteriously subservient to the purposes and glory of that ONE Only GOD. “Unto Whom.”

II. The new stage, just then being reached by the world in the unfolding of God’s revelation of Himself, discovered this God in relation to another “personal” existence within His own essence. A “Father,” loving and loved by a “Son,” Who had stepped forth from the unseen, within then very recent years, and in human form had taken His part and place in the history of the race, the historical “Jesus,” the “Christ” for whom Israel had been for ages waiting, the “Lord” in the life and worship and thought of Christians, Jew and Gentile alike. And a yet more profound and mysterious truth connected with this Jesus Christ, the Lord, was coming into view. He is seen standing a Midway Term, a Mediating Condition, making possible, actual, the (intellectually difficult) passage between Creator and Creation: “apart from Him nothing made that was made”; “the worlds framed by the (Personal) Word of God” (John 1:3; Hebrews 11:3). Further, as for their origin, so for their continuous maintenance in order, beauty, life, all created things depend mediately, not directly, upon God, “through” Christ; the God of Providence, as of Creation, is God in Christ. [To a Christian, therefore, Providence is no mere bare, hard, perfect, governmental system, but the rule of a God with a heart; a God Whose heart has been seen and known in Christ. To a Christian, Providence is not only wisdom, but love; not only power, but grace.]

III. There is, further, another Creation, another world, with its order and beauty and life and government,—the spiritual; a glorious Sub-section, a grand Episode, in the larger Whole of God-originated, God-sustained Being; taking shape in a Church; repeated, too, in all its essential characteristics, but on a smaller scale, in the new order, beauty, happiness, rule, within the individual life of the Christian. Nowhere is it more true than of the Church and of the Christian, “we are through Him,” viz. Christ. The Church, the individual believer, is nothing, has nothing, becomes nothing, could retain nothing, except through Christ. He and His work and grace are the great underlying, foundation, Condition, assumed in all God’s dealing with them; presupposed in all the new creation from first to last. Remove Him from the facts of the case as between God and man, and all disappears,—Redemption, Pardon, the Grace of the Spirit; all life, knowledge, good; all hope, all heaven. [“Things which are not” have become and, moment by moment, subsist—“we are”—through Christ (1 Corinthians 1:28; 1 Corinthians 1:30).]

IV. This once apprehended and made the working basis of thought and practice, “An idol is nothing.” [God and Providence once fully believed in and trusted, all Luck, Chance, Evil-eye, Omens, Astrology, and a host of heathenish fears and superstitions and sinful traffickings with demons and the dead, disappear from Christian life.] The image may have meant in better, earlier, [very occasional] instances an attempt to assist the worshipping instinct and craving in man to realise and approach some Presence vaguely apprehended and believed in, in Nature. But there could be no real correspondence between the idols and the true God. [Paul on Mars’ Hill pointed across to the Acropolis of Athens, with its temples and statues. “God—God that made the world—dwells not even in such glorious shrines as those. God, whose offspring Men are, is no thing of stone or ivory or gold like even those.”] There were—could be—no beings to be represented by the crowds of idols, “gods many, lords many,” in every heathen pantheon. The one Divine Presence and Power and Ruler “in the world” is the God Whom we know; the idol stands for nothing, represents and makes visible no reality, signifies nothing—is a mere piece of carved or molten matter, a work of art perhaps, but nothing to be worshipped or feared, and has no meaning to the religious instinct. [Except in the indirect sense that the Adversary of God and of all good avails himself of the idol, to divert to himself and his “demons” the homage of the worshipping heart in men, and perverts into the occasion of gross sin the very ceremonial of the worship of heathen systems (1 Corinthians 10:20).]

V. Hence follows a complete emancipation of the use and enjoyment of the creature from any superstitious restrictions.—All the creation of God is free to man, God’s designated lord of creation. [Woods, streams, mountains are no longer haunted by, possessed by, a host of divinities.] No regard need any longer be had to any connection between a “divinity” supposed in the idol, and the thing useful or needful for man. The food which has been upon an idol altar has lost nothing nor gained anything in that fact. It was morally neutral before; intrinsically it is non-moral still to partake of it. [Hard for any except those to-day living or working in countries and societies beginning to be affected by Christianity, to realise what an emancipation it brings to mind and heart and practice to find the heathen pantheon, whether poetically beautiful or fearsomely dreadful, benignant or malevolent, swept away, and the world seen to be a great temple filled with God, and that God known in, ruling by, to be worshipped in, Christ. It is a revolutionising emancipation. The dread is gone, which perpetually overhung life; the shadow disappears from nature and from the future; there is a new sense of security and freedom. Men breathe freely, walk with a new buoyancy, move and work and enjoy, in a world whose atmosphere is filled with the presence of God in Christ.]

VI. One other fact is assumed as between Paul and his correspondents: “Christ died even for a man who perishes.”—Redemption is no fatalism; no hard compulsion which necessitates ultimate salvation. Redemption has brought a grace to every man, which is the basis on which the Spirit and the man himself may co-operate to build up a saved life. All “natural” goodness, all the so-called “innate” knowledge of what is “right” and what “wrong,” all “freedom” and “power” of will toward God and good, all the (often very strong) drawings toward God, and the (often very strong) holdings back from sin; all ability to respond to God’s “command” that men should repent (Acts 17:30); all ability to believe with a saving faith; all knowledge of, sensibility to, love for, Divine things; all the light given even to the heathen;—all are fruits of the redemptive work of Christ, availing literally for all men. This may be followed up or sinned away. It is always enough to make condemnation just, if a man be unfaithful to it; whilst out of it may grow a true salvation. This makes Christ the “light which lighteth every man coming into the world” (John 1:5). Every man is born of a redeemed stock; because of a Redeemer’s grace, every man may be saved. Whatever be the eternal issue of the life of the individual, or his present moral condition—however sunk or degraded or dark—the great facts of the Redeemer’s work remain unalterably facts, independently of any use or neglect of them by the man himself. They are the foundation of all hope for the Christian worker, as he seeks to lift and save others; they are the basis of all work; they are the warrant for prayer for the salvation of souls.

VII. Knowledge has its perils.—

1. Such knowledge is no achievement to be boasted of; it is a privilege, a mercy, a favour, a grace. The wisdom of the world does not “know” all this. It is to-day avowedly “Agnostic” in regard to all such questions. It will affirm nothing, will deny nothing; it has no scientific basis or right to say “we know.” The ancient philosophies never reached any certain conclusions on such topics. Each teacher was successful rather in criticising his predecessor’s system and logic than in constructing his own, or in bringing to any restful certainty the mind and heart. God was not, is not, found by searching. The Fatherhood, with its correlative Sonships, Divine and human, was never so much as guessed or suspected. The history of speculation and nquiry, ancient and modern, conclusively establishes this, that upon this last point we have to choose between believing a revelation and complete ignorance; and, further, that as to the existence, nature, unity, creative work, and providential government of God, nothing beyond guesses, which may ripen into hope, are attainable by unassisted reason.

2. So, then, knowledge should be, (a) grateful, (b) humble, and (c) patient towards ignorance or less-advanced knowledge. There is a delight in the winning of knowledge which is intoxicating; there is a glorious sense of mastery when new ground has been occupied, when new worlds of facts have been possessed; the sense of enlargement reveals to a man how glorious a thing is his manhood, with its capacity for apprehending and appropriating such great truths. But the wise man should remember that all he knows is all a gift, a grace. He should be grateful. He should remember how limited, after all, is his knowledge at its widest, and be humble. “There remaineth yet much land to be possessed.” He has only yet made and occupied a small clearing in a boundless forest of dark recesses and intricate growths. Above all, he needs to be patient to those who have not yet reached his point of advance and clear vision. [The sixth-form scholar is impatient with the firstform boy, that he cannot at once see what is to himself so obvious.] He must not forget the days when he was himself toilsomely climbing the hill whose top, with its broad horizon of knowledge, he has now reached. He must keep his sympathy for those whose knowledge is yet only in process towards the relative completeness which is, after all, all he has himself even now attained. Self-sufficiency, self-conceit, unsympathetic impatience with imperfect enlightenment, are some of the moral perils of the man “puffed up” with his “knowledge.” [Even in merely secular, natural knowledge also, error is not far off when this is the temper of an inquirer; the student who would still go on to “know,” must be humble, simple, docile to Nature and its facts. Carelessness and inaccuracy of methods, or their application, are also perils not far away from such students.]

B. The teachings of love.—

1. Knowledge and love are in no necessary opposition. They are made for each other. Their union produces the perfect life. They are both found in closest alliance, each perfect, in God. No need to exalt love at the expense of knowledge. Knowledge is not sinful, or godless, per se. (See Paul’s prayer for his beloved Philippians, Philippians 1:9.) The Godlike life needs, embodies, combines, both. Indeed, in the highest sense, and in regard to the highest things, love is the condition of knowledge. Only the man who “loves God,” knows God; or (let us say) can have that life of fellowship with God whose not least precious privilege it is to rejoice to lie all open and “known” to the scrutiny of the eye of God.

2. Love without knowledge is liable to become fanatical, and easily led into mischievous error. Knowledge without love is apt to become, as we have seen, impatient of weakness, cold, hard, repellent, pitiless; in its self-contained, self-satisfied exaltation following out its conclusions to their rigorous, logical issues, regardless of the consequences in other lives. Apt to be lifted up to a mountain-top of self-glorification, and to forget or despise the struggling, troubled, tempted, weaker multitudes on the lower levels of common life. In the region of the clear, cold light of its definite convictions and assured conclusions, it walks confidently, securely, and does not understand or allow for the difficulties and perils of the lives which walk in the mists and darkness of weakness or half-enlightenment. The knowledge of the logical mind is specially liable to be cruelly reckless of what pressing perfectly warranted conclusions to their full length may cost to the men and women who cannot live by logic; who largely follow “custom,” and with difficulty find their way into new paths, whether of belief or practice; who do not readily emancipate mind or “conscience” from long-established ideas, or prepossessions or prejudices; who find it harder than do the men of “knowledge,” to unlearn the mental and moral habits and training of a lifetime. To such, for example, a public banquet in a heathen temple was not yet a thing simply of social and civil life. The place itself was not neutral ground, and the fact that some of the provisions had been offered upon idol altars gave the very food upon the table a moral taint. Let the man of knowledge press them upon the point; they can give him—can give themselves—little or no satisfying reason for their instinctive shrinking from participation. “But you believe that there are no such gods as the idols represent?” “Yes.” “And you believe, too, that the temple floor is part of the world which all belongs to your God?” “Yes.” “And you surely see that a heathen divinity which is really non-existent cannot have affected the food put upon its altar?” “Yes. Y-e-s. But—” “And you understand that God takes no account of you, favourable or unfavourable, merely because of what you eat or don’t eat, or drink?” “Yes.” And yet the habit of regarding the banquet and the food as affected by its consecration to a god is not readily to be uprooted; conscience cannot see clearly yet that, because the idol is nothing, the effect upon the food is morally nothing.

3. Whilst, then, Knowledge lives too readily in an unreal world [almost in a moral vacuum], and takes too little account of the complexity of moral questions in the concrete of daily life, Love says to Knowledge: “Do not disregard the prejudice born of habit, and the difficulty born of half-enlightenment of conscience. Do not by your action force on too fast in his mental development, and in his moral growth, the less-advanced man next you in the Church. Do not stand too stiffly upon, nor exact for yourself too rigorously, the fullest liberty which in the abstract you might claim. His foundation will not carry your building as yours can. Remember he is likely to emulate you, disliking perhaps to be thought weak, fearing perhaps the scornful verdict implied in the very contrast with you; he will try to build as fast and as high as you; he will try to go as far. That respect for conscience and its teaching which is a primary principle of all moral life will be injured. It is part of the foundation of his character; you help him to disturb it. And then, with a shaken foundation, and a building too high for it, if even it were in unimpaired strength, no great wonder if he “perish”; beginning with violence done to his moral sensitiveness, he will go on to some more positive transgression, tempted by the scenes and company into which you embolden him to thrust himself. What wonder if all his ideas, his moral convictions, his practice, come toppling down in soul-destroying ruin! And if he “perish,” what follower are you of that Christ “who died” to redeem and save him? “Knowledge?” “I see as clearly as any of you how absolutely nothing in intrinsic significance are all such accidents of the food I eat. They are nothing to it, or to me; they in no way affect my standing before God. But rather than even contribute to the moral wreck of even one soul, rather than spread a snare for an unwary or unsteady and uncertain foot, I will abstain always and in all circumstances from anything which creates difficulty or danger to my brother’s soul.” Hardly necessary to think that Paul in actual practice abstained from flesh-meat, except in the particular case here under discussion. The “I” is somewhat rhetorical. He is, in part, indirectly suggesting to a Corinthian what his heart ought to make him say.


1 Corinthians 8:1-3. Knowledge weighed in the Balances against Love.—The verdict is: “Found wanting.”

I. The reference is special—to knowledge in relation to Divine things. This is due to the special occasion out of which Paul’s words have arisen. But 1 Corinthians 8:2 is true of knowledge on all subjects, in any field of inquiry.

1. True knowledge will only be arrived at by the man who is a patient inquirer; recognising himself the servant, not the master or the maker, of Facts; acknowledging that truth is paramount, and before any question of his own reputation or consistency as a theorist or a teacher. He must never, in his confidence that “he knows,” be so wedded to his own first conclusions as not to admit their modification or complete setting aside, if new light and new facts be forthcoming, especially when these are the result of the inquiry and the work of others. He will be humble, recognising the limitations of his powers, of his field; that his results are often only provisionally and relatively true, and that when absolutely true they are only part of the whole Truth. Nature—Natural Science—has little or nothing to reveal to the man full of prepossessions or prejudices; who will not always have the spirit of a learner; who, confident in his own results, too promptly closes doors, and refuses to allow to himself further inquiry, or to new truth any entrance, in any particular direction. One of the surest results of the widest knowledge is the knowledge how much there is to know, and how little any one man can or does know. (Cf. Homily on “We know in part,” 1 Corinthians 13:9.)

2. The humble, teachable, patient temper is still more emphatically a sine quâ non of all knowledge in relation to Divine things. “The little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Indeed, “the little child alone enters into,” and so arrives at any true knowledge of, “the kingdom of heaven.” The man of prepossessions—against Revelation or any part of its contents, or for Reason, making it the one, supreme organon of knowledge, and the sole test of truth; who will insist that everything, indeed, shall satisfy his reason—will arrive at no true knowledge of God. The man, in spiritual things “wise in his own conceits,” is not really wise. To a “spiritual” man whom “love” has “built up” in real knowledge, it is amusing to hear the dogmatically confident pronouncements upon points of theology and the experimental life. [These two stand in the most intimate association. The heart makes the theologian. The knowledge of God and things Divine is a grace of the same Spirit Who awakens and sustains the experimental life of God within the soul. He will, He can, teach nothing to the man who is not first morally receptive.] He may be a very scantily educated, a very little cultured, man; but on these topics he says, with much pity and some amusement, “Ah, my wise friend, you know nothing yet as you ought to know.”

II. Of knowledge and love in contrast we say:

1. Knowledge puffs the man up; love builds him up. Love is the basis of the noblest character; above all, of the distinctively Christian character. This begins in the love of God shed abroad in the heart; this awakens an answering love to God, “because He first loved us.” Love lays all new knowledge under contribution for practical life; it is the supreme, the summarised, Law of life; it is the one adequate, self-acting, reliable, motive power, as well as the director of all Christian activity. Love and knowledge need each other. The sentence is antithetically strong in its form; but facts, and the reason of the thing, agree to make it clear that love alone cannot build up a strong character. Love without knowledge tends to become mere feeble sentimentalism; a mere impulsive, impressionable thing, at the mercy of the latest influence brought to bear. Knowledge ought to give “bone,” rigidity, resistant power, to the spiritual “constitution.” But knowledge alone can make no constitution; love is the health of the soul, without which all the food which knowledge brings, only “puffs up,” not feeds. Thus increase of knowledge may become a real danger to the soul, unless it be turned to practical account, as a new ability to serve God and man better, in loving devotion to both. Turn all new light into new activity. Light should be force. “If ye know, happy are ye if ye do.”

2. Knowledge puffs the man himself up; love seeks to build others up. Paul’s point here. The clear, confident, instructed man, to whom all the idolatry of his old life was now a transparent sham, by the keen vision of his knowl dge, seen through and through in all its empty unreality, was apt to be a selfish man. Proud in his superiority to the vulgar, unreasoning prejudices of the common run of his fellow-Christians; puffed up with a sense of mental grasp and large view; his danger was to live for himself, to pursue his own course, reckless what souls he ran down and wrecked in the unfaltering, unswerving, severely logical, adherence to his own clearly traced path, followed out to its utmost logical consequences. The peril of knowledge is fastidiousness, intolerance, and lack of sympathy for other and less perfect views, a cruel insistence upon its own rights and liberty; summum jus working summam injuriam. Love in its very nature goes outside itself; looks at others, tries to understand their ignorance, the difficulties of their half-enlightenment, both of understanding and conscience; is patient with their slower progress, accommodates its own pace to their slower advancement. Mere knowledge pushes ignorance impatiently aside, and holds on its own way; love stops to help and encourage, and carry forward in its company to its own goal. Knowledge alone is apt to be the intellectual priest or Levite; Love stops to be the Samaritan, seeking to save and build up again the soul in peril, or perplexity, or ignorance. Knowledge says, “This people that knoweth not the law are cursed.” Love says, “Come unto me, ye that are burdened and heavy laden; I will give you rest.”

III. Love, and not mere knowledge, brings into fellowship with God.—The Devil knows—none better—how true is everything Paul asserts in this chapter. Conceivable that a man may acquire and retain a full, accurate, trained knowledge of the didactic and controversial literature of divinity in all its topics, whilst losing the love which brought him into union with God. But, the love gone, the life is gone; the link between God and the soul is sundered. If he do not love God, he cannot know God. [How constantly we say, “So-and-so will never know or understand me; he does not like me.”] God will know him, indeed, as He knows all His works (Acts 15:18). But He will “know the proud” man of knowledge “afar off” (Psalms 138:6). There will be no love in God’s knowledge. No affectionate, complacent regard, as a father knows his child, or a friend his friend. The man who loves knows God. They look into each other’s heart, and know each other.

1 Corinthians 8:6. Christian Monotheism.—The Jew was the monotheist of the ancient world. [Modern inquiry and fuller knowledge are making it clear that Cyrus was no such strict monotheist as until recently was supposed. Moreover, the Persian religion recognised as secondary, but independent, Being, the Author and Worker of evil. It was really Dualism, not Monotheism.] The Christian, as well as the Jew and the Mahometan, is a modern monotheist. “To us there is but one God.” The name “Unitarian” is now understood, and has become a convenience; but every Christian Trinitarian claims to be also in the true sense “unitarian”: a monotheist in the strictest sense. (See also further in the Critical Notes.) This Christian belief in the unity of God by no means denies Godhead to the Lord Jesus Christ [or to the Spirit]. [It is understood that all language on this topic is negative of error, rather than positive assertion of truth, and must be accepted and used with that proviso. It walks on a narrow, edgelike path, with pitfalls of error, of overstatement, or deficient statement, on either hand.] With sufficient frequency to make belief in His Godhead secure, are Divine names given to Him, and a Divine position, in the language, affections, life, work, of the men of the New Testament. Yet, prevalently, the name “God” is given to the “Father.” This verse is typical in its style of language in regard to Christ.

1. Something may be due to the “local colouring” of the men, their Jewish race and upbringing, their idolatrous age and surroundings. The unity of God still needed emphasising in the presence of a polytheistic world. Also they had themselves known, or knew well those who had known, the Son of God,—had eaten with, lived with, seen, heard, handled, the Son in the familiar guise of the Man, Jesus, of Nazareth. Perhaps permissible, and in accordance with the analogy of all God’s dealings, to say that they were not yet so far emancipated from their old monotheistic predispositions, as that their habitual language should yet fully express their actual belief in the Godhead of their Master. The heart did, but not yet fully their tongue.

2. More is due to the fact that from (say) Acts 2:22 to (say) 1 John 5:20 the Spirit is, with increasing clearness, revealing the Divine Son. In this verse the language is still transitional.

3. But, after all, there is not only that degree of relative truth in the restricted attribute of the name “God” to the “Father”; there is also the absolute truth which has sometimes been called the “Principatus” of the Father. [Neither this, nor “subordination” in regard to the Son, may be overpressed. They are working conventionalisms of language, rather than exact statements of the whole truth; these latter are, indeed, impossible to us. In Pearson’s well-known, cautious words (Creed, article i.), “Some kind of priority we must ascribe unto Him Whom we call the first, in respect of Him Whom we call the second.… Now this privilege or priority consisteth not in this, that the essence or attributes of the one are greater than the essence or the attributes of the other, … but only in this, that the Father hath that essence of Himself, the Son by communication from the Father.” Above all, add to this, that New Testament language ordinarily has regard to the Father and the Son, as they are seen related, and active, in the working out of Redemption.

4. Multiplied, often verified, experiment in all ages, in all lands, in persons of all ages and types, has shown that, with the smallest exception, the Godhead of the “Lord Jesus Christ” has not only created no difficulty in regard to the Oneness of the Godhead, but has proved to be the truth which has satisfied alike the most cultured intellects and the simplest hearts. For the child, or the heathen, or the untrained adult mind at home, “Jesus” is the “God” with Whom their heart has practically to do. [A thing this, quite distinct from the formal, theologically precise Swedenborgian assertion that the One God is He Whom we know as the Son, Jesus Christ.] History and the reason of the thing show that

I. Christian, Trinitarian Monotheism is the one form of teaching about God which has for any long period preserved unimpaired the doctrine of the unity of God.—“The mere abstract unity of the Godbead, which does not include a multiplicity, soon leads to a cold and lifeless Deism; and as soon as it has reached this point, is forced to seek refreshment from the pantheistic religions of nature. After the Jews and Mahometans had rejected the idea of a Son who is of the same Divine essence with His Father, as idolatry, they were fated to find their absolutely monotheistic conceptions of God utterly empty and lifeless, so that they yearned after the warm vitality of Pantheism. This is a phenomenon which is clearly evident from the history of the Jewish philosophers (especially Spinoza) as well as of the Indian and Persian Pantheists. And so, too, it could not but happen that philosophical Pantheism should tread on the heels of German Deism and Rationalism. As long as Theism distinguishes only between God and the world, and not between God and God, it will always have a tendency to Pantheism, or some other denial of absolute Being.… (The) One has taken to Himself all life, and neutralises all the vital fulness of nature. We no longer feel love or joy. There is but One around whom all things move, and He is a cold, mathematical quantity, a point of pure abstraction. Abstract Monotheism has too little life-blood to offer an enduring resistance to the pantheistic deification of nature.… In [the Trinity] we have a Unity; not, however, unloving and lifeless, a cold numerical One, but a complex of living and loving energies—a living Unity embracing a Plurality, and bearing the sacred name of Father, Son, and Spirit.” [Christlieb, Modern Doubt and Christian Belief, pp. 266, 267. To similar effect, and very nobly, Huntington, Christian Believing and Living, pp. 343, 344, who says:] “Two errors divide the unchristianised world between them. Either the personality of God is sacrificed to the infinity, or the infinity is sacrificed to the personality. In the former case men may imagine that they recognise an Infinite Being; but it is only an abstraction, or a principle, or a bundle of laws, or a loose mass of sequences and phenomena, from which the attribute of infinity itself as well as of personal consciousness is soon found to have ebbed away. In the latter case the innate longing for a veritable Divine Person, with personal traits answering to ours, may be met; but it will soon begin to appear that, though a Person remains, the Eternal and Uncreated and Almighty God of glory is gone.… Both the errors spring from desires and demands of man’s nature which in themselves are right.… Despairing to conceive of personality without limitation, some men rush over to Pantheism. Others, despairing of retaining a Deity near enough for love and sympathy who is literally infinite, stop short with a Deity who is not God.… [And he adds:] These implanted wants are wonderfully satisfied in the Divine Trinity. In the Absolute and one only Godhead, all man’s highest, purest, largest, most far-reaching conceptions, stretching away into the regions of Infinitude, Eternity, Almightiness, have their full and complete exercise. In the Incarnate Christ, taking up our humanity, the longing for a personal, sympathising, companionable, Deity is blessedly answered—and yet God is there: there is no loss of the essential and veritable Deity. In the Holy Spirit, the natural desire of the devout mind to connect God with all the operations of the present world, the processes of Creation, the welfare, renewal, revolutions, sanctification of the Human Family, finds its lawful verification.” “I have long thought that without an eternal Logos you must have an eternal cosmos; and I therefore suspect that a monopersonal Theism is impotent against the Pantheist. So that since the controversy has passed from its old atheistic phases, I doubt if either Deist, or Socinian, or Mahometan, will be able to cope with the Pantheist. In short, I doubt if any but a Trinitarian can do so adequately.” (Dr. Duncan, in Colloquia Peripatetica, p. 96.)

II. “The conception of the triune God furnishes us with the sole bridge that can fill up the breach between God and the world, … the void which separates the transcendent unity of God from the rich and manifold organisation of natural life.… The Word which becomes incarnate, in order to do and suffer for mankind, and the Spirit who by His power begets fresh life, both stand between God and the world as mediate causes which not only render the creation of the world a possibility, but also guarantee the Divine presence in it, and its return to God. Here we have all the fulness and freshness of Pantheism combined with the truth of Monotheism, whilst the element in which the latter is wanting, viz. a real connecting link between God and the world, is here supplied.… [So particularly by the Incarnation and the Atonement.] We have a connecting link between God and man in the person of the Incarnate Logos, who is the eternal Archetype of the whole creation, and especially of man, and who for all future æons will be the head of the whole body.… The spiritual chasm which yawns between sinful man and the absolutely sinless God-man is filled up by the regenerating and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit. Hence the doctrine of the Trinity affords the most important aids in determining our practical relation to God.” (Christlieb, p. 270.)

(For the relations of this Doctrine to the spiritual life, see in the Critical Notes.)

1 Corinthians 8:10-13. The Rights of Conscience.—N.B. of even an ill-instructed, half-enlightened, needlessly sensitive, conscience.

I. It has rights

(1) as against the man himself. It claims to be listened to, and obeyed, especially when restricting liberty and condemning action. The man may grow more enlightened by-and-by, better instructed, clearer in view, and stronger in character. But, until he does, let him rigorously compel himself to obey conscience. The eye will so be kept healthy, and ready to receive new light; the ear will be kept sensitive, and ready to receive new direction from God. More hope, more possibilities, for a conscientious heathen than for a well-instructed Christian who at every step is doing violence to his clear knowledge of wrong and right. “To him that hath, (and is faithful to, even one talent of knowledge and light) shall be given (more light).” God is honoured, Whose gifts both the faculty and any degree of enlightenment it possesses are. Obedience to conscience is the germ out of which all true morality must grow. A man must not do what his conscience forbids.
(2) As against the better instructed, fully enlightened Christian. Such a one must deal gently with the “weaker” brother. Especially may he need to abridge his own liberty for his sake. “No doubt, to the large, free, enlightened mind of Paul, all these scruples and superstitions must have seemed mean, trivial, and small indeed. It was a matter to him of far less importance that truth should be established, than that it should be arrived at truly—a matter of far less importance, even that right should be done, than that right should be done rightly. Conscience was far more sacred to him than even liberty.… The scruple may be small and foolish, but it may be impossible to uproot it, without tearing up the feeling of the sanctity of conscience, and of reverence for the law of God, associated with the scruple. Therefore … Paul counsels … to abridge their … liberty.… For two reasons: the first, one of Christian feeling. It might cause exquisite pain to sensitive minds to see those things which appeared to them to be wrong done by Christian brethren.… Further, if any man, overborne by authority or interest were [to eat], not according to conscience, but against it, there would be a distinct and direct act of disobedience—a conflict between the sense of right, and the gratification of his appetites or the power of influence; and then his compliance would as much damage his conscience and moral sense as if the act had been wrong in itself.” (Robertson, Expos. Lectures, in loco.)

II. Yet conscience has no absolute right of acquittal.—

1. Look, e.g., at 1 Corinthians 4:4 : “I know nothing against myself, yet,” etc. Conscience holds barely a “court of first instance.” Every verdict must be reported to the Great Judge. He alone knows absolute wrong and right. Conscience is no independently authoritative fountain of law. It does good, though only provisional, service if (as here) a man is led to use what is perhaps an excess of caution. It cannot blamelessly enlarge liberty, if the enlargement mean sin. Conscientious ignorance can only be “excused” when it has led to “sin,” if the man be, as the foundation of all his status before God, a sinner trusting in Christ, and if he have also sought for light with all simplicity and earnestness, and have followed, as before God, all the light he has.

2. Also no regard for another man’s scruples or ignorance may require a Christian to suppress or conceal truth, or to do what to himself is wrong. His conscience in its turn has its rights, and must be obeyed. [Indeed, obviously, the whole field within which Paul’s counsel and its underlying principle are binding or operative, is a narrow one, limited to questions not of absolute, abiding, universal, wrong and right, but only to the relative wrong and right which may vary according to the circumstances of the man or the time, to expediency, or the demand of brotherly forbearance.] [“Christ died” for such! How much will you deny yourself of to save a soul from difficulty or temptation? What father will not banish drink from his table, if his boy is in danger? What teacher will not dress more quietly, if her Sunday scholars are in danger of pleading her example to defend their vanity or waste in dress? What friend will not give up his cards, or his novel, or his opera, if his practice is a stumbling-block, or a real temptation, to his friend—though perhaps very illogically and unfairly so? It would not be the Spirit of Christ which says: “Why should I give up my novel, my billiards, my opera, my alcohol, my cards, for the sake of these poor creatures who cannot use without abusing? For the sake, e.g., of these children, these new converts, these narrow and prejudiced ‘evangelicals’!”]

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/1-corinthians-8.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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